Puslapio vaizdai

The High Cost of Politics


HE public condemnation of the party expenditure of $10,358,509 in the last Presidential election is just, though igno

rant. The average man looks on this expenditure as corrupt. He believes that this flood of money is expended in buying voters at the polls or in securing nominations to various offices from delegates to party conventions. He is aware that in a campaign thousands of meetings are held, and that these call for speakers, halls, and advertising. He has never asked or thought of asking who pays for them.

A flood of "literature" pours in on the voter as election draws near. He finds advertisements in the newspaper. He receives a stream of appeals, of announcements of meetings, of argument, of contrasted copies of platforms, of utterances of the Presidential candidates. Their pictures are on the boardings, great placards are seen on innumerable advertising spaces. All these cost. Who pays for them? If he remembers the election of 1916, the voter has in his memory the appearance of a big four-sheet colored poster of a happy home in peace and the legend, "He has kept us out of war." He recollects that there was no fence or wall so high priced and no highway or railroad so sequestered that he did not somewhere see a pictorial reminder of this declaration, true in October, 1916, wholly untrue six months later. Some one paid for it. Who? Where did it come from?

Great posters on bill-boards and buildings are the costliest form of publicity. In 1916 it did the work. "He has kept us out of war" turned the tide. Six or eight weeks before November, 1916, Judge Charles E. Hughes, now secretary of state, then the Republican candidate for President, seemed certain to be elected. He was defeated, to the lifelong credit of Mr. Vance McCormick, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. McCormick had the inspiration, the courage, the resource, when the committee was heavily in debt and adverse odds made raising money more difficult every day, to create this "slogan," to "tell it" in pictures, and to pour out from a quarter to half a million in "putting it over" on the American people. The voters chose Woodrow Wilson for President. There were many factors, the split in California in the Republican party; the astute and energetic management of Hiram W. Johnson in rallying the last few hundred obscure voters that gave California to the Democrats; the "hyphenated" vote; the errors of the Republican candidate in going just far enough on the war issue to estrange votes and not far enough to arouse enthusiasm; and a score more of lesser acts, utterances, and issues, but the election turned on putting before all the country, "He has kept us out of the war."

This was publicity of the very first order. But publicity costs. Without it elections cannot be won.

$ 2

When the vote in American elections widened from a high-property qualification to a mere poll-tax, and, later, to white male suffrage, all who urged the stupendous step believed that a vote was so precious an exercise of power that every one qualified would vote.

This was all wrong. When the first step to general male suffrage came in this State, only half the voters voted. Big as was the total national vote last November (26,469,268), fully one third of the voters stayed at home. In Boston, where, thanks to a capable statistician, Dr. E. M. Hartwell, the record of votes cast has been accurately presented, the ballots in the box equal only half the voters. In most Southern States from only about a quarter to a third of the voters go to the official polls. The "white primary," which comes before the regular election, is decisive. The negro vote is suppressed by a combination of law, violence, and the passive political inertia of the ignorant. Even the white vote that comes to the "white primary," the real election, is far below the total number of votes that would be cast if all the white voters chose to exercise the right of suffrage. Taking the figures of 1910 and allowing for growth, in 1916 there were, in the whole country, 52,000,000 possible voters. Yet of this vast number only 26,469,268 came to the polls, or about one half. Of the other half, some were ill, some were absent, some had moved between registration and election, some were excluded as insane, as convicts, as paupers, some by special laws like those aimed at negroes in Southern States; but the overwhelming share of absentees did not vote because they

did not take the trouble to qualify to vote.

This broad gap between the vote cast and the possible vote is the despair of professional politicians. A certain number will vote, anyway. Others can be brought to the polls by the party organization whose watchers, workers, and election-division "captains" know those who generally vote. There is another vote which an "active campaign" brings out; for every one is aware that there is a wide margin of votes which can be swept into the ballot-boxes by great tides of emotion. If this can be stimulated, set in motion, and kept in motion by skilful appeals, then a new margin is reached, and you have a "tidal wave."

§ 3

What is true of the regular election is still truer of the party primaries. Taking the States as a whole, not over a tenth of the total vote of each party reaches the primary that decides party nominations in many States. I doubt that, on the average, in the party primaries held about thirty years ago before laws were passed for uniform primaries, over a twentieth of the voters went to the party caucus or primary at all. Uniform primary laws have enormously increased the number of voters who at least try to name the party candidates for whom they vote. In New York City, in the four elections between 1873 and 1876, when I was a reporter, the voters who went to the Republican and Democratic primaries, held without law, rule, or regulation, were ridiculously few in number, particularly among Republicans. A few active party men ran the whole thing; the rest stayed away. If they went, and interfered with the

machine and its work, a fight was certain, and an occasional homicide possible. For the thirty years in which I was in close touch with local politics in Philadelphia the attendance under the old plan was even smaller. In both New York and Philadelphia, until reform began in the eighties, for the thirty years from 1850 to 1880 one election murder at least was expected, and due provision was made for the reporter who was to be ready to look after the predictable homicide.

Earlier in American government there was no pretense of providing for action by the general body of voters in many States. Senator Simon Cameron was fond of telling young journalists, full of the new wine of primary and election reform, that the delegation from Pennsylvania to the Democratic National Convention in 1844, which nominated James K. Polk, was named by himself and two other state leaders, who met at a Philadelphia tavern, and had difficulty in finding men who would take the trip to Baltimore. The old primary was run by ward and township leaders. The The state and national conventions were corrupt. They were chosen by the general body of voters.

Like the vote at regular elections, the "uniform primary" begins with a small number, which steadily grows. The education of the voter is more difficult because the responsibility is less immediate. Education and training for the use of the ballot-box has gone on for 150 years; for the "uniform primary" fewer than thirty years. In 1891 only twenty-six States had laws on uniform primaries. The Republican vote at the Presidential primaries last year was 2,477,859, the largest yet cast.

It is a hopeful proof of the advance in public opinion that the heavy expenditure at the Republican primaries killed the candidates responsible for spending $2,653,303 in them. A return to the old system will be a flagrant return to corruption, bargains, combinations, and control by the few. What is needed is more public education and experience for the voters, immediate publicity for all contributions, and a strict limit on the expenditure per voter. This has proved effective in parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom, because the candidate is disqualified if he or his friends exceed the limit imposed by law.


Only men practically at work in elections realize that no effort gets out all the people that could vote, or understand better that the voters who do vote are got out only by an expenditure of ten or twenty millions for the whole country.

Of this vast sum a part is spent by central national committees, a part by state committees, and a part by local committees. The election divisions in the United States number from thirty thousand to forty thousand. Each has two and often three party committees, or at all events two or three "division captains." No one knows how much is spent in these divisions. No division captain ever does his job without spending some of his own money. These men are the non-combatants of the political army. Without them party government would stop, and self-government would be impossible. Some hold office; the overwhelming majority do not. They get their reward in doing a man's job in a man's way. They love to feel

that they are a governing force in their county, State, and nation.

The visible expenditure of a Presidential election goes through the national organizations. This outlay was small down to the Civil War. Lincoln used a fee of a thousand dollars in paying the expenses of his debate with Douglas, but no one would venture to stage such a debate between two men as conspicuous to-day for less than ten thousand, while most men would want fifteen thousand to do it. States could be contested in 1860 for twentyfive hundred dollars for Maine and twelve thousand for Pennsylvania. At least that is what James G. Blaine and A. K. McClure, who did it, told me they disbursed. By 1872 expenses became large. From 1840 to 1860 our city elections were brutal, violent, and openly corrupt, as those of England once were. The purchase of votes from 1868 to 1880 was far more familiar than it is to-day, and our legislatures from 1800 to 1880 were far more corrupt. This always comes in the early use of liberty. The Long Parliament, which beheaded Charles I, reeked with corruption. Royal charters were bought. Alexander Hamilton saw no wrong in giving legislators shares in a bank for whose charter they voted. Our railroad system was floated in our corruption. So were the street-car lines of New York and Philadelphia. Down to 1905 our life insurance companies spent millions for corrupt ends. There was a direct purchase of votes. No Vice-President to-day or for twenty years past would dare to jest, as did Chester A. Arthur after the campaign of 1880, about using sugar in Indiana to buy votes or to boast of their purchase in "blocks of five." Bundles of two-dollar bills

were sent to that State in the election as the market quotation for a vote.

By 1880 the New York "World" charged that a million dollars had been expended by the National Republican Committee of which Senator Quay was chairman. This was an underestimate. Of the sum four hundred thousand dollars was raised in Pennsylvania; the actual outlay ran closer to two millions. The expenditure of Presidential campaigns began to shift from the direct or indirect purchase of votes to organization and publicity. By 1896 the expenditure of the Republican National Committee reached $7,500,000, a point it has never equaled since. Of this sum $2,500,000 was raised in Pennsylvania, about a thousand men and corporations contributing. Three savings-banks gave $25,000 apiece on the ground that the deposits they held in trust would lose half their worth if silver came in as the standard of value. Many state banks, under political control, gave because they held state deposits. The life insurance companies gave for the same reason as the savings-banks. Finally federal and state laws were passed prohibiting corporations from making gifts to election funds. gifts to election funds. A disgraceful and perilous practice ceased.

Voting is a plant of slow growth. It has taken a century and a half to get to the polls half of the total number of voters who can cast their ballots if they choose. New York having been close for a century, its voting vote runs up to four fifths or even more. The possibility of success brings out the vote of both parties. Pennsylvania, being one-sided, with a heavy Republican majority, does not often vote half its possible voters. This is the proportion of most European countries.

Only half the voters go to the polls in France, Spain, and Italy. Germany does better. The voting English vote was once not over half of those who could vote. This has improved. The vote there actually cast now approaches our proportion in closely contested States.

The South is solid. Excepting West Virginia and Tennessee, no Southern State has cast an honest electoral vote for a Republican candidate since 1872, forty-eight years ago. In the North there are only half a dozen States which have not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in recent years, and nine States-Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and California-are fighting-ground every year. These alone are enough any year to decide the result. They cast 7,161,000 votes last year, nearly a third of the total vote.

In the doubtful States and in the country at large the problem of "bringing out the vote" is essentially a "publicity problem." A "slogan" is needed, arguments that will tell on the vast mass, some graphic utterance or picture, and these will round up the uncertain vote; but no "publicity" can possibly win for any article unless the thing itself is worth having on its own account. Advertizing cannot sell a poor thing, but a good thing cannot sell without "publicity" and without publicity of the right sort.

§ 5

For two parties working over fiftytwo million possible voters to spend on this task $7,500,000 will not seem extravagant to any reader who knows "publicity" and its cost. The peril is that "publicity" will become corrup

tion, and that the men who pay for publicity will ask too much in return. The cure for this is publicity. The accounts of all political organizations should be in prescribed forms. All gifts should be sent to the newspapers as they come in. A bi-partizan board should examine the books of every organization, big and little, and there should be public records, open to any one during the campaign, and filed with some public officer at the close. Any changes in such records should be adjudged forgery of one degree or another.

Until every one of us is ready to contribute to election expenses, the rich man will keep his pull, because we, the great we in voting, the small we in giving, are not willing to do our duty. Big gifts will have big weight. All of us who do not give are responsible for these evils attendant upon large contributions.

Once tickets, watchers, and, in some States, election officers and pollingplaces were paid for by private contributions. These are now a public charge. An appropriation of thirty million dollars a year from the Federal treasury, and the criminal prohibition of all private gifts to politics by candidates or their backers, would reduce the evil to small dimensions. The polls are far purer since taxation paid their cost. The campaign would improve in the same way through the same remedy. This sounds radical, but I can remember when the Australian ballot, printed at the public expense, was radical. No self-respecting body of voters ought to be willing to get its political education, information, and emotional awakening at elections out of the gifts of rich men alone. All should assist.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »